Thursday, January 3, 2013

Not As Different As I Thought (Part I)

by Susan Milton, Clearwater parent

One day a couple of years ago, I was at a playground chatting about schools with another mom while our kids played. After hearing a bit about The Clearwater School, where my kids go, and The Bryn Mawr School for Girls, where I went as a child, she said, "Oh, so you wanted your kids to have the kind of school that you had". I started to say, "oh, no, no,...", when all of the sudden I realized that she had a point. In mid-sentence, I changed my mind 180 degrees and said, "Yeah, I guess you're right. I never thought of it like that."

Susan, 2nd row, 2nd from left

I realized in that moment that although my own school was very traditional, and all girls, and we wore uniforms (although it was not a religious school), and Clearwater is nothing like this, that maybe both schools are similar in the ways that turned out to be of lasting importance to me.

For example:
  • Small Supportive Community. At my school, there were about 50 girls in each grade. Many, including me, went to the school from kindergarten or first grade through the end of high school. And while I wouldn't exactly say that I had warm fuzzy feelings towards everyone at every moment, it was a culture where kindness and basic human decency were valued highly. I never experienced or witnessed any bullying at school. 
  • Continuity. I got to see how different people grew and changed over the years, and I remember times when teachers who knew me as a little girl were still there encouraging me as a teenager. It is not so hard for me to imagine how my kids feel at Clearwater, where they know everyone and can stay in the same school from early childhood through early adulthood. I am really glad that this experience is available to them.
  • Beautiful, Healthful Surroundings.That concrete, fenced-in school building is so ubiquitous, that it seems like it somehow must be a normal, natural place for children to spend their days. But whenever I visit a school like this I never feel like I want to stay long in that institutional space, no matter how nice the people are. I was lucky enough to spend my school years surrounded by grass, trees, and homelike buildings with plenty of fresh air. This wasn't the kind of thing I remember giving a lot of thought to as a kid, but looking back on it, I feel that this calming environment sunk in deep and had a great effect on my overall well-being, including my ability to learn while at school. And I am really glad that at Clearwater my kids are surrounded by natural beauty and comfortable indoor spaces every day.
  • Outstanding Learning Environment. Education was a huge priority for my parents, and they agonized over the decision about what type of school would be best for me. Like every parent I know, they wanted me to be successful in life and they also thought that there was intrinsic value in being an educated person. I believe that the school I went to turned out to be an amazing place for learning, and that Clearwater offers all the best aspects of that, plus lots more. It is really easy for me to focus on the new and different aspects of Clearwater's approach to learning, because I feel so passionately that these differences can offer a way out of so many of the problems that exist in education. But now I am thinking that maybe it is the similarities that drew me in as much as the differences, and that I am able to recognize what a fantastic environment for learning Clearwater is because of the way it builds upon what I experienced myself growing up. 
I have heard so many parents say that they hated school and would never want their kids to have a similar experience, so I know I am lucky that my story isn't like that. While I was writing this, I started to think about another similarity between The Bryn Mawr School and Clearwater, so this post has a part 2 - stay tuned.

Part 2 will be published next week.

Susan Milton has two children at The Clearwater School: Thad (14) and Imogen (7), both of whom have attended since they started school at age four and five.

1 comment:

Martha Hurwitz said...

This is so interesting, Susan. I tend to focus on what I didn't like about the schooling I received and all the ways it was not like a Sudbury school. Your post has me rethinking my own experiences. Acknowledging similarities is a great way to see Clearwater as being a school like other schools--and this would be a good way to talk about Clearwater for those people who value more than just academics in schools.